Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, May 5, 2013 -- The First Two Weeks of the New Website Design

The makeover of the website has now been online for about two weeks. The initial furor over the links or lack of links has subsided considerably, most likely due to the almost immediate changes made to the website. So is the site now "The FamilySearch you love, only better?"

Some parts of the site, such as the for-some-time-now deceased Forums, have quietly almost completely disappeared completely from the website. Other parts of the website have been buried so deep as to disappear, such as the Learning Center which is referred to as such only in the "Get Help" link.

Predictably, photos and stories are right up front and sort-of in your face. There does not seem to be anything on the newly done-over site that tells how many photos and stories have been added with the new emphasis, but one of my ancestors now has at least four exact duplicate photos with no visible way of eliminating duplicates. So the number is likely inflated by the duplicate photos.

The new fan chart seems to be an attractive innovation, except for the fact that there is no way to tell if the individuals shown on the chart are even vaguely accurate. This is especially true the further back you go in time. So if I navigate to Family Tree and switch to looking at my ancestors in the Fan Chart, although the first four generations are OK, moving an ancestor back four generations to the center of a fan chart can be an interesting experience. Holes show up where relatives are well known and if the basic tree is faulty, the problems, of course, show up in the fan chart with nothing to indicate that there are gross errors.

From my perspective, having been assigned to teach classes on the new design every week, the new design is not going down well with the old users. Maybe this was planned. Maybe there was an intentional effort to change the user base? Well, if that was the case, it is working.

Each of the component parts of the program still work very well. Historical Record Collections keep growing and the Research Wiki is still surviving. What seems to be missing is a clear connection between the different functions of the program. For example, if I am attracted to the photos portion of the program, where do I go from there? There is no clear path telling people to do more research or add sources or whatever. People will soon run out of photos to add to the program (or not depending on whether they have as many as I do) but then what? What do I do next? It certainly is not clear from the website. There seems to be an underlying assumption that "everyone knows" how to do genealogical research and will know what to do when they run out of stories and photos.

One of the big gaps in the new design is the instructions on searching for your ancestors. No where in the new site is it explained that the Historical Record Collections are mostly images and cannot be searched. Although this may seem obvious to those of us who are familiar with searching online records, how is someone who is told to search, given a search field to fill in and then searches supposed to know that more than half the records are not being searched at all?

Ok, so there is good and bad. Some of the FamilySearch commentators claim that traffic to FamilySearch has increased dramatically since the implementation of the new site. It is, of course, impossible to tell if that is due to the new design or merely to the fact that new functions have been advertised and made generally available. Up until the time of the new design, most people were not being told that Family Tree, Photos and the rest were "open to the public."

So far, from a personal standpoint, the new design took me about a week to work around and now, I mostly ignore it except when I am teaching people how to use the site. From time to time, I still have an issue. For example, the first time I tried to find the Reference Manual for Family Tree. That took me a while to work through. So far, I haven't been able to find the general Help searches that were available on the older designed website. Searching altogether on the site is a challenge. But it is what it is and we can still do our work.


  1. still very much a "work in progress" and way too much change for the average (normal) person. You didn't mention the Temple management page - it's a significant regression in my opinion. Oh well, one step forward (and two back). It'll get there someday (maybe).

  2. Today I was looking for the Family History Library Catalog online. Never did find it. Fortunately I have it on disk. Of course it can't be updated, but at least I can find what I am looking for without wasting time trying to figure out where it has been hidden and what it is now called.

    1. It is under the Search link at the top of the startup page with everything else that isn't in the Help menu.